In the midst of addressing concerns about tuition costs during his most recent State of the College address, Columbia College Chicago President Warrick Carter entered into a heated exchange last week with a student who said she was homeless and appeared to tell her to "shut up" when she questioned his $400,000 annual salary.
The interaction occurred Wednesday during a question-and-answer portion of Carter's annual address. Carter has been scrutinized lately over the school's financial health and faces questions of how he will "prioritize" certain academic programs going forward.
A protester at the event questioned Carter by noting that "you make $4,000 less than the United States President from what I've heard and I'm a homeless student here. There're no incentives for homeless students which sucks, trust me I should know. … What are you gonna do, man? What is my tuition -- answer my question -- what is my tuition paying for other than electricity? Because I still have to find money for books, I still have to find money for housing which is extremely expensive and it should not be especially because I'm a homeless student."
In response, President Carter stated, "Don't blame me because you are [homeless]."
When the questioner sought to clarify her statement, Carter continued: "I am very sorry you are homeless. We will do everything we can to support you. We will do what we can. Our tuition has to be based on what our expenses are. My salary has nothing to do with it."
When the questioner responded to the president's statement, Carter appeared to tell her, as the Beachwood Reporter observed, "Oh, shut up."
A Columbia College Chicago spokesperson said the clip of the interaction was "intentionally excerpted to unfairly bias viewers who have only seen two minutes of conversation during a 45-minute discussion." Further, the representative said:
Additionally, the comment was not directed toward the homeless student and her inquiry about administrative salary, but rather to an outspoken member of the crowd who interrupted Q&A with his commentary several times throughout the session. Dr. Carter’s frustration with the frequent interruptions unfortunately got the better of him; however, he apologized to the student and the crowd before the forum came to a close and he regrets his choice of words.
The Chicago Tribune reported earlier this month that Columbia has seen its enrollment drop significantly in recent years -- from 12,500 in 2008 to just more than 11,000 last fall. And while the number of majors for the college's music programs have increased, two revered music divisions -- Chicago Jazz Ensemble and Center for Black Music Research -- are reportedly on the chopping block as the college strives to get on more solid financial footing.
Other programs listed among those up for being "combined" or restructured include the school's galleries, the Ellen Stone Belic Institute for the Study of Women & Gender in the Arts & Media, creative writing programs, the cultural studies program, the American Sign Language program and the journalism news reporting program. Phaseouts or eliminations in a report released this month include several theatre degree programs. The college's newspaper The Chronicle is slated to transition to an online-only publication within two years.
In an e-mail sent to students, staff and alumni earlier in the month, Carter explained that the prioritization process is an ongoing one in which "no decisions have been made at this time." Final decisions of which programs could be eliminated, "combined" or restructured are expected to be made in June.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that Chicago Jazz Ensemble and Center for Black Music Research majors are on the rise. Rather, music program majors generally are rising at the school, according to the Tribune, though these two specific Columbia College offerings are not degree programs.